edited: Saturday, October 06, 2001
By Rose G rose.moss@LineOne.net
Posted: Saturday, September 08, 2001
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My Mother loved to tell me about her family, an interesting and varied collection of people, most of whom died before I was born.
My Mother loved to tell me stories about her ancestors. Her Mother told her more about her family than her father did, which I think is often the case. as women are usually more interested in family history I’ve observed.
Her father did enjoy telling her though about his Great Uncle, though my Mother worked out it must have been Great, Great, Great, Uncle, George Stubbs, the famous painter of horses, whose paintings are displayed in the world’s great art galleries.
My Grandfather’s family came from Liverpool, he was an only surviving child, whose mother died young. His father remarried, but unfortunately, his second wife suffered from tuberculosis and out of several children only one lived past their early twenties. She suffered from tuberculosis too, but recovered in a sanatorium at Market Drayton, where she spent several years in wards open to the elements.
Tuberculosis, or consumption as it was usually called, carried rather a stigma and people were loath to talk about it, probably out of fear.
My Mother knew there were two branches of the family descended from her maternal Great Grandmother, the Nicholls’s, and the Maydews. She always wondered why this was so and asked various relatives only to be given vague answers about Great Grandmother being married twice. The Nicholls branch of the family tended to give themselves airs and talk about being descended from lords.
Eventually one of my Mother’s aunts told her the truth.
Great Grandmother Nichols had been in service at a large house in Market Drayton which was owned by local gentry and while working there had become pregnant. She returned home in disgrace and gave birth to a son, whom she called Richard.
No one ever knew the truth, but my mother assumed that she had become the object of unwelcome attentions from one of her employer’s sons. Servant girls in those days were in a Catch 22 situation. If they refused their master’s attentions, they would be dismissed for disobedience, if they succumbed and became pregnant, they’d then be dismissed for immorality, usually without the references needed to get another job.
Everyone in the family regarded Great Grandmother as a good woman, despite the stigma attached in those days to having a child out of wedlock. A few years after Richard’s birth, Great Grandmother married Aaron Maydew and they had a son called James. Both boys were raised as equals and taught a trade. Eventually Richard married and settled in Lancashire where he and his wife raised three children, Charles, Lily, and Christobel.
James was extremely clever and designed and made all manner of things including two miniature chests of drawers, carved from solid oak ,a miniature stove made from metal and a table, decorated with carved acorns, which are treasured family heirlooms to this day.
He married Margaret Ann Richards and they settled down to raise a family, but unfortunately, he suffered badly from bronchitis and was often unable to work, so Margaret Ann had to take in ironing for a local doctor to make ends meet. She spent hours warming heavy flat irons on an open fire, summer and winter to ensure the doctor’s starched shirts and collars were in pristine condition.
Margaret Ann and Aaron had six children, all who survived, which was quite an achievement in those days. Annie, my Grandmother was first, born in 1869 followed by William (Will), Albert, John (Jack), Alice, and Richard (Dick)
At the age of nine, Annie was sent to live with her maternal aunt, a sour and childless woman who used her as a servant to carry out tasks like fetching water several times daily and carrying it up a steep hill.
In those days, when children worked in factories, this was considered neither cruel nor unusual, as parents of large families just couldn’t afford to keep all their children and would send some to childless relatives, who could afford to feed them. Their options were limited as there was no welfare state or reliable methods of controlling how many children were born.
Aaron Maydew’s frail health led to his early death and Great Grandma Nicholls married for a second time in her old age, so it was true that she married twice, as my mother had been told.
My Grandmother eventually left Market Drayton to work as a maid in Cheshire, where she met my Grandfather who was born there. They married February 29th 1892 and had four daughters, my Aunt Christobel, twins who died in infancy and my Mother. She kept in touch with her family and my Mother grew up in close contact with her Aunts and Uncles.
Uncle Will married his cousin, Lily Nicholls, who had worked in a mill, where she was woken every morning at dawn by a man who went round the houses with a long pole, banging on doors and windows to tell the workers it was time to get up. She would rise by candlelight and make her way to work wearing clogs.
Despite her lowly origins she had grand ideas and was always boasting about being descended from lords and trying to make my mother more ladylike by grumbling if she didn’t wear a hat, or wore sandals instead of shoes in the summer. She was great friends with my Mother’s much older sister, who shared many of her aspirations.
All my Mother’s Uncles and her sister were afflicted by the skin condition Psoriasis, but not severely enough to cause any great problems apart from Uncle Albert, who suffered so badly from it, that he was too embarrassed to ever marry. When he came to stay with his relatives, he would request an old newspaper to stand on while he dressed or undressed to collect the flakes of skin, which constantly fell from his body.
Luckily, he was able to work despite his health problems and had a good job which took him all over the world to locations including Czarist Russia. He was the wealthiest member of the family and brought my mother some lovely gifts including a leather music case and a world atlas, which I still have.
He would take my Mother and her sister for a day out in Liverpool when he came to visit and treat them to lunch at a smart restaurant, which my Mother found rather exciting.
He was very fond of fishing and together with a married male friend, bought a wood with a stream in Ashby de la Zouche, where they would spend a week’s holiday together each year, fishing. My Mother was always rather sorry that Uncle Albert predeceased his friend, who inherited his share of the wood, so it went out of the family.
Uncle Albert’s demise almost caused a family rift. He left some money to my Mother and her sister and his processions to be divided between his brothers and brother in law, his pipes to my Grandfather, his clothes to Jack and his books to Will. I know he left something to Dick, but I forget what. The problems started, when my Grandfather asked if he could have the pipe rack to keep the pipes in. The executers agreed, so Will decided in that case he needed the bookcase to store his newly inherited books in. Not to be outdone, and urged on by his wife, Jack demanded the wardrobe for the clothes! Luckily, everyone got what they wanted and a quarrel was averted. Uncle Albert’s processions were the only ones, which stayed in the family, as apart from my Grandmother, all the Maydews were outlived by their spouses.
My Mother’s favourite Uncle was Jack, a gardener at Peteswood Hall in Market Drayton. He had a quiet and laid back temperament, much like my Mother’s and she spent many happy holidays with him and his wife Annie. Annie lived to be over 90 and I still have a doll in the attic that she gave me when I was about 3 years old.
My Mother was also close to her Auntie Alice, a sweet natured lady who as a young woman had stayed at home to nurse her ailing Mother in Market Drayton. A young man, called Edwin Bishard came to the area to work for a few months from Guernsey in the Channel Isles. He met Alice and fell deeply in love with her and they became engaged when he bought her a ring with a diamond set in a gold band and their initials engraved inside. His employers then demanded he return to Guernsey and he wanted to marry Alice so she could go with him. Alice was devastated as much as she loved her fiancé she felt unable to leave her invalid Mother. It seemed the romance was doomed.
Then, as she liked to say “The Good Lord decided it for her” and her Mother died of a sudden heart attack
She and Edwin were married and moved to Guernsey. The young couple were devastated when their first son died as a baby, but two years later, they had a second, Edward (Ted), whose descendants live in Guernsey to this day.
My Mother and her family visited Guernsey once or twice and Alice often paid a visit to Cheshire. My Mother loved her very much and confided in her far more than my Grandmother, who was rather stern. She always said she was more like her Auntie Alice than her Mother.
Auntie Alice died of a heart attack just before the Second World War broke out. Uncle Edwin remarried and stayed in Guernsey, while Ted escaped to join the British Army and then spent the rest of his life in Guernsey once the Nazi occupation ended. He married a local woman and had two children.
Uncle Dick married Florrie and lived only a short walk away from my Mother and her family, which was just as well, for once my Grandmother decided to invite all her family to stay and wouldn’t have had enough beds for them if Uncle Dick and Aunt Florrie hadn’t been able to go home to sleep.
Uncle Dick was my Mother’s least favourite Uncle as he had rather a sullen disposition, while Aunt Florrie had a sharp tongue, which once caused her to fall out with my Aunt Christobel and not speak to her for two years. The quarrel was only resolved with the help of a family friend, who knew Uncle Dick’s health was failing after he collapsed in the town centre. He died a few months afterwards and Aunt Florrie was devastated saying not a moment of the day passed when she didn’t think of him. She was a large woman but soon started to loose weight and developed a hacking cough. She went into hospital for tests and the Doctor told her cruelly but truthfully.
“It’s cancer, Mrs Maydew .The only thing we could do is take out your lungs, and you’d be dead in two minutes.”
Aunt Florrie spent her remaining weeks with her sister, who had a cottage in the country, five miles from the nearest bus stop. My Mother and Aunt Christobel went to see her shortly before she died .It was January and in all they, walked ten miles in the snow.
I never knew any of my Mother’s Aunts and Uncles, but her stories brought them alive to me. She was always puzzled why non of her Uncles had children and wondered if some genetic defect caused infertility, but never knew as such matters were never spoken of, as out of the six Maydew offspring only Alice had any fourth generation descendants.
The Nicholls family fared little better as Lily was childless; Chrissie had two children but although both married, neither had children. Charles became a chemist and then married and had three sons, but developed Tuberculosis and had to give up his shop and become a Market Gardener. His health worsened and he became so depressed he took his own life. My Mother lost touch with the sons, but always hoped they might have one day had children.
Few of the family remain, but their memories will live on as long as I do.